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Berlin attacker contact seen as radical Salafist

January 5, 2017

Authorities have detained a 26-year-old contact of Anis Amri, the man linked to the Berlin Christmas market attack. Media outlets have reported that the suspect is considered a Salafist capable of taking radical action.

Berlin police
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Gambarini

A spokeswoman for the office of Germany's chief prosecutor on Wednesday said authorities have taken a second Tunisian suspect into custody following raids in Berlin on Tuesday.

A warrant has been issued by the Justice Ministry for the Tunisian suspect, who had been in contact with Anis Amri, the prime suspect in December's Christmas market attack, the night before it occurred.

"This contact person is a 26-year-old Tunisian. We are investigating him for possibly participating in the attack," spokeswoman Frauke Köhler told reporters, adding that prosecutors suspected he may have known about Amri's plan.

However, she added that there was insufficient evidence to charge the suspect.

In a separate statement, the federal prosecutor's office announced the man had been charged with committing social welfare fraud and would remain in custody.

However, a number of German media outlets, including German daily "Süddeutsche Zeitung" and public broadcasters WDR and NDR, reported Wednesday that the suspect is considered a Salafist capable of carrying out radical actions, such as an attack.

Martin Steltner, spokesman for Berlin's state prosecutor, also told German broadcaster rbb on Wednesday that the suspect had previously been detained on suspicion of supplying explosives intended for a prospective attack in Dusseldorf.

Hiowever, the man was freed at the time after investigators found no evidence against him.

Links to Amri

The 26-year-old suspect allegedly had dinner with Amri at a restaurant the night before the attack, according to Köhler. The suspect allegedly met Amri in late 2015. "Süddeutsche Zeitung" reported that the two men traveled together from Italy to Germany that year.

The spokeswoman noted that electronic communication devices discovered during the raid had been seized, and that authorities are in the process of evaluating content found on them.

On Tuesday, German police raided a refugee shelter and flat in Berlin in connection with the Christmas market attack.

Meanwhile, Italian police confirmed on Wednesday that a gun used to kill the Polish driver of the truck used in the Christmas market attacked was the same as one used in a shootout with police in Milan, in which Amri was killed.

On the same day, Swiss authorities announced they were launching criminal proceedings related to the Berlin attacks. Without providing specifics, the prosecutors said they were looking into a possible violation of Switzerland's ban on the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) and Al-Qaeda, as well as support of a criminal organization.

Prosecutors: Suspect gestured to camera

Authorities say Amri, a Tunisian who had his asylum application rejected, drove a large truck through a Christmas market in Berlin on December 19, leaving 12 dead and dozens more injured. He was killed in a shootout with police in Italy after a Europe-wide manhunt for the assailant.

Köhler added that prosecutors believe Amri was filmed by surveillance cameras raising his finger in an apparent gesture used by supporters of the "Islamic State" militant group after fleeing the scene of the terrorist attack. She said that he appeared to be aware that he was being filmed.

Shortly after the attack, the IS militant group claimed responsibility for the Christmas market attack, claiming Amri was "targeting citizens of the Crusader coalition."

Germany is a member of the US-led coalition launching airstrikes against the militant group in Iraq and Syria.

Infografik Anis Amri Aktualisierung nach Tötung in Mailand ENGLISCH

Terror threat

In a New Year's Eve address, German Chancellor Angela Merkel described terrorism as the greatest challenge facing the country following several attacks committed in 2015.

"Without a doubt, the most difficult test we've faced is Islamist terrorism, which has also had us Germans in its crosshairs for many years," she added.

Meanwhile, police in Saarland arrested a Syrian suspect on Sunday for planning an attack involving disguised police patrol cars filled with hundreds of kilograms of explosives.

The suspect claimed he was attempting to defraud IS after investigators discovered messages on his mobile phone.

ls,dm/se (AFP, dpa, AP)